Onward, Christian Soldiers

There’s a faint hint of embarrassment about this old Protestant hymn, written by Sabine Baring-Gould and set to music by Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Well-known to most converts from Protestantism (as I am, now more than 30 years ago), it is not that well-known to Catholics, nor do I recall singing it once since my entrance into full communion.  We tilt the nose slightly at its martial rigor and its joy.  We feel it somehow slightly childish – and, indeed, it was originally written as a march for children’s processions, when processions and other public displays of faith were permissible in the West.   I don’t expect we will be singing it any time soon.

And yet I refer to it, almost in the same breath as my piece on The Battle Hymn of the Kingdom of Heaven, because for Christians, spiritual warfare is glory and joy.   St. Paul instructs us in his Letter the Ephesians that we must put on the whole armor of God.  The Roman centurion receives high praise from Our Lord Himself.  Centuries of manuals on the spiritual life tell us that this life is a time of trial, of battle, and that those who fight for the Lord, first of all, against their own sins and vices; and secondly, against the sins and vices around them, will, if they die in grace, inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Church was once very clear on this, in preparing her young people, and her adult converts, for Confirmation:  we were becoming militi Christi, soldiers of Christ, entering the fray for the battle for souls. 

If things have been going badly of late, perhaps it is because we are not fighting well, or that not enough of us are.   That is, at least, a common thought, and yet I am not sure it is correct or entirely fair.  We have prophecy, after all, both in Holy Scripture and private revelation, that tells us that the battle Satan wages against God, and therefore against those who bear his image–all of humanity–, intensifies as the end approaches. Private revelation tells us that the last battle is over the family; and this is where the battle has been focused for the last two decades.  As Cardinal of Krakow, then-Karol Wojtyła told those gathered at the Philadelphia Eucharistic Congress for the Bicentennial, that we were entering the definitive battle.  Here we are today, and it appears we have lost every major skirmish since that time. We stand before a new one now. 

Gideon won his battle, against all odds, with a handful of warriors.  The Old Testament is filled with other, similar examples, of things going badly:  until the Lord intervenes when His people call upon Him in the way He instructs us to.  Help comes when it seems almost hopeless, as long as we do our part.  What matters is not the numbers of people, but the degree of their faith and the steadfastness of their obedience.

We do not know what lies ahead.  I read, for instance, in the same publication, an article encouraging us to prepare for the catacombs and another encouraging us to resist.   We do know, however, that conflict awaits us; that the conflict latent in the West, its deep opposition to the call of the Gospel, is now being manifested.   When a putative Vice President elect, the teammate of a putative Catholic, attains to that position, aided by the votes of how many Catholics, after she coldly and scornfully challenged the fitness for office of a Catholic judge because he is a Knight of Columbus and holds to the teachings of the Church, we know things are bad.  When people are indifferent to the irregularities by which this slate presumes to ascend to power, we know things are bad.

And this is actually very good. It means that now really is the time of decision: we are all-in for God, or we are all in for self and comfort.  We will stand for life, or we will stand for the “right” to kill the innocent for convenience or advantage.  We will stand for the traditional family, or we will stand for the notion of sexual and family life as self-gratification any way we choose to organize it.  We will stand for law and order, or we will stand for the chaos of conflicting wills to power.  We will stand up Jesus Christ, or we will say, “no, we won’t, we will temporize and obfuscate,” and in that statement, stand for Old Scratch.  We will choose to suffer with Christ now, or we will choose a different, rather longer suffering, one from which there is no relief, in order to live some momentary prosperity, security, or happiness.

The choice is ours.

Another Protestant hymn of my childhood has it like this:

Conquering now and still to conquer, rideth a King in his might,
Leading the host of all the faithful into the midst of the fight.
See them with courage advancing, clad in their brilliant array,
Shouting the Name of their Leader, hear them exaltingly say:
“Not to the strong is the battle, not to the swift is the race,
But to the true and the faithful victory is promised through grace.”

To this hymn let us add our own Amen, together with the Hail Mary:  she, full of grace, will obtain through her prayers the grace we need to carry on when hope seems waning or lost.   We ask the intercession of St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, to aid us, too, for St. Paul told us in the famous passage from Ephesians that our warfare is spiritual.  Come what may, carry on:  and remember that if we do, a crown and glory await us, regardless of when or how we leave this field of battle, regardless of how this battle ends.  We know who wins the war.

David Carradini is a Knight of Malta, of the Holy Sepulchre, and of the Constantinian Order. He is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Navarre, and resides with his wife in Virginia.

Signs & Wonders for Our Times